Editor’s Note: Last week, the Oslo Freedom Forum took place. It is the annual human-rights conference in the Norwegian capital. Jay Nordlinger is touching on sundry matters in this journal. The previous parts are at the following links: I, II, and III.
Addressing the Oslo Freedom Forum is a Norwegian: a man who survived the 2011 massacre. This was the mass-murder spree of a Norwegian “lone wolf” whose death toll, in the end, was 77. Most of these were youngsters at a summer camp on an island called “Utoya.”
Our speaker was on that island, and he tells us about what happened. He also examines the lessons of this event. I know what my lesson is, at least one of them. I don’t know how many here, or elsewhere, would agree with me.
As I understand it, the murderer carried out his murdering for 90 minutes. An hour and a half. He just mowed ’em down, one after the other. They were sitting ducks. There was not one person — not one human being — who was armed. He had the only gun, or guns. No one else had a chance.
Our speaker tells us that the camp’s security guards were killed first. I should put “security guards” in quotation marks. What did they plan to use against an aggressor? Persuasion?
In 2010, I was in Oslo, researching a book on the Nobel Peace Prize. A staffer at the Nobel Institute pointed out to me, with pride, that in his country, Norway, the police were unarmed. I thought, “Huh. That could prove inconvenient when others have arms.”
I realize that such matters as the 2011 massacre are complicated. Multifaceted. But for all the demonization of guns, it’s nice when an innocent person has one, when a non-innocent starts shooting.
Do you know what I mean? Is that too “right-wing”? Or just sensible and human?
‐Also addressing the forum is Maajid Nawaz — who is a British writer and politician. He was born in the U.K. to Muslim Pakistanis. Then he became a jihadist. Then he was arrested and imprisoned in Egypt. He later became an anti-jihadist — founding an organization called “Quilliam,” which seeks to counter jihadism and boost freedom, integration, and human rights.
Toward the beginning of his talk, Nawaz defines terms — which I find gratifying. He says that Islamism is the desire to impose Islam — any version — on society. Jihadism is the use of force to spread Islamism.
Further on in his talk, he says he’s going to caricature George W. Bush’s views — and goes ahead and does so in this fashion: “Bush believed that democracy could be imposed at the barrel of a gun. He believed you could democratize from the top down.” I realize that Nawaz prefaced his remarks by warning of a caricature: but his caricature is so false, so unfair, so slanderous, that I can hardly listen to him any longer. I kind of tune out.
I’ve said it before — in this very journal, I think — and I’ll say it again: Otherwise intelligent people become stone-dumb when the subject is George W. Bush. Moreover, he is doing more for democracy in the Middle East, right now, through his center in Dallas, than most people ever dream of. Consider merely his woman-to-woman initiative.
And at a time when most Americans have washed their hands of the Middle East — understandably — Bush is still at it, for all the crap he gets.
But listen: I will cut Maajid Nawaz miles and miles of slack. Because I know how brave he is. And I know how important and unusual his current work is. And I know he catches hell from the Left — the Western Left — all the day long.
So I’ll shut up now and simply thank him …
‐A Norwegian actor, Henrik Mestad, is on the stage, doing a dramatic reading of Elie Wiesel:
We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Wherever men and women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must — at that moment — become the center of the universe.
People on the left and right in America would yell, “Neocon! Neocon!” Or, as they call me these days, a “neo-Cohen.” Get it?
‐Emin Milli comes from Azerbaijan — which is a lousy place. It has been ruled by two men, father and son, since 1993 — the Aliyevs.
That’s nothing. Syria has been ruled by two men, father and son, since 1970. Hey, someone should write a book about that! (Sorry, just being a jerk: My latest book is Children of Monsters: An Inquiry into the Sons and Daughters of Dictators.)
Mr. Milli was once in prison. Václav Havel sent him a book. It meant a lot to the prisoner. “You think you’re forgotten, and then you find out you’re not.”
I’d like to know what the book was. Milli doesn’t say (unless I missed it).
He does say that, in Azerbaijan, there are thousands of stories of torture. Yet no one tells the stories — because they fear that, if they do, the state will target them again, plus their families.
An old story …
‐Anjan Sundaram is an Indian journalist who knows a lot about Africa. One year, he went to Rwanda — post-genocide. People told him to expect a calm, peaceful country. Even one that was a little bit boring.
What he found was horrifying. People automatically obeyed the orders of the president, Paul Kagame. Some of the orders were fairly benign. (“Henceforward, no one will wear rubber slippers.”) Others of them were not.
Sundaram came upon a community where the people were dazed and homeless. All of their homes — thatched-roof huts — had been destroyed. By whom? The army? The police? No, themselves. The people themselves had destroyed their homes. President Kagame had damned these dwellings as primitive. The local chiefs conveyed the word. And people got to work, taking apart the homes they had lived in all their lives. They had nothing to replace them with.
In previous times, it was worse: The government gave the order to kill. The people obeyed.
Journalism in Rwanda can be highly hazardous to your health. Sundaram has the stats and details.
President Kagame is a very popular fellow. He wins reelection with almost 100 percent of the vote. Hoxha pulled this off in old Albania. So did Saddam, in Iraq. These guys have the touch — the touch of fear, torture, and murder.
‐Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy is one of the most lovable people at the Freedom Forum. She is a Pakistani journalist and filmmaker — an Oscar winner.
When she was 17, she wrote an article about bullying. The bullies didn’t like it. They festooned her neighborhood with vulgarities about her. Obscene, personal graffiti.
Her father, bless him, did not accuse or blame her. This was a Sunday (if I have heard correctly). He found the one shop that was open. He bought whitewash. Then he and his friends painted over the epithets.
Obaid-Chinoy exposes honor killing. (In Pakistan, more than a thousand women a year die this way.) She also exposes acid attacks. You know: Men throw acid into the faces of girls and women, in order to disfigure them for life. (Maybe women do this too. I don’t know.)
Naturally, Obaid-Chinoy receives threats from people who don’t want her exposing these things. They call her a traitor, a maligner of Pakistan. They wish for her rape and murder. She has seen colleagues killed. Yet she persists.
What a woman.
‐End on a language note? We haven’t had one of those in a while. I sit next to an Iranian-born woman who lives in Norway. She describes for me a ski jump. There’s this “cable thingy.” “Did you say ‘thingy’?” “Yes, I said ‘thingy.’”
I’m impressed. This is real, idiomatic English.
She then tells a story. It goes something like this: She was in a restaurant and was asked whether she wanted more coffee. “No, I’m good,” she said. The waiter said, “That’s so American!” It is.
Thanks for joining me, ladies and gentlemen. I’ll see you for Part V.